The Covid19 pandemic affected us all in countless ways. On Unraveling, Pam Asberry shares her personal experiences from this difficult time. The album is just as much comforting as it is encouraging, especially now when there are fewer and fewer restrictions. It is also a fantastic historical account of how it actually felt, from the first news about the virus, via long quarantines and until the world reopened. Asberry once again confirms that she is one of the finest pianists on the New Age music scene today. Her delicate and heartwarming compositions and inspired performance make us see the world in new ways. Even a difficult topic like Covid19 becomes easier to process thanks to her solo piano brilliance.
Pam Asberry has a Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees in piano performance and piano pedagogy. She released her first album of original solo piano music, Seashells in My Pocket, in October 2017. The album was nominated 2017 Album of the Year by One World Music Radio and Asberry was awarded Best New Artist 2017 by Enlightened Piano Radio. Her second album, a collection of holiday arrangements titled Thankful Heart, Joyful Mind, was released in 2018. Then she released The Presence of Wonder, All Through the Night (2019) and Moods, Impressions & Souvenirs (2020). Twelvemonth and Amazing Grace followed in 2021.
Storm Clouds Gather
Even without knowing anything about the Unraveling‘s context, you can sense that something sinister is brewing when you press the play button. Storm Clouds Gather sets the mood for the whole album. You can see before your inner eye how the horizon changes ominously. Asberry writes: “This music depicts the sense of foreboding I experienced following the earliest reports of a mysterious coronavirus-related pneumonia in Wuhan, China.” I think most of us can relate to that, and confirm how accurate Storm Clouds Gather describe that time of uncertainty. Notice the somewhat open ending; none of us knew where this was going to end.
The title track shows Pam Asberry’s skills and finesses as a composer and performer. In the intro, we are presented with ordinary life, or the time before Covid19 if you will. Then there is a shift around 1 minute and 50 seconds, as more and more dark notes are heard. We are suddenly in a different place, the atmosphere has changed, and the initial sense of safety is gone. I believe most of you reading this can confirm that feeling when the magnitude of Covid19 became apparent. The world was suddenly upside-down. Still, everything around us, our immediate surroundings, looked the same. The next piece, Bluebird, communicates this emotion splendidly.
Quarantine life had its ups and downs. It was not all bad, which Tattered Lace tells about. “While sorting through a box of old papers and memorabilia, I found several pieces of antique lace handmade by my grandmother and my great-grandmother, filling me with a comforting awareness of connectivity with past generations,” writes Asberry. I think this kind of zooming, from the global pandemic to something personal and recognizable, is wonderful and inspiring. We all had positive experiences like this during quarantine. But still, it was hard to keep a positive outlook. Dark Places describes the lows in an honest and straightforward way.
My favorite piece on the album is Goodbye Again. It is about saying farewell without knowing if you will see the person again. It is that kind of melody that says more than 1 000 words. I often find myself putting Goodbye Again on replay, unwilling to say goodbye to this magnificent piece. Thank God for the replay button, I say.
The next part of the album refines the idea behind Unraveling. The duality is being explored in new and fascinating ways. Labyrinth is about the Covid19 puzzle that had the medical world on its heels for months at end, while Saudade – a Portuguese word that describes a deep nostalgic or melancholic longing for something beloved that might never be had again – shows life moments, family gatherings and the myriad of other things that never took place due to the pandemic. It is a strange kind of sorrow, balanced perfectly by Asberry.
The album goes in for a landing with Polaris and This Time with You. Polaris is triumphant and bright, leaving no doubt that it all will end well. The reflective This Time with You feels close and warm. Even the silence between the notes tells the same story. That we suddenly had more time with our family and closest friends, was a blessing.
Metamorphosis is a small masterpiece! It is like an EP placed at the end of the album, summarizing and distilling everything the Covid19 era taught us – and everything we have experienced thus far. As Asberry puts it: “I believe I will never be able to return to the person I was before the pandemic, nor do I wish to. Rather, I am determined to remember the lessons I have learned during these challenging times and to emerge into the days ahead with new insights, beauty, and power.”
In conclusion: There will probably never be a definitive Covid19 album. But within the New Age music genre, I can see Pam Asberry’s Unraveling becoming one of the very few albums that managed to describe this difficult era in a memorable way. Its success formula is in Asberry’s personal and intimate approach: It plays almost as an “eye witness” report as the events are happening. But it is not overly dramatic or loud. There is a quiet sensibility here that connects with the listener’s soul as if communicating with an old friend.
Asberry chose Unraveling as the title because of the word’s double meaning. Covid19 was something that needed to be both solved and untangled on many levels. I love how Asberry manages to capture the experience of living in such extraordinary and deeply confusing times. Unraveling is just as much a phenomenal piano album as it is a historical account. That is quite an extraordinary achievement.
For more information and music samples, visit pamasberry.com.
Unraveling is now playing on New Age Stars Radio.